Sopris rises over the Marble Distillery Inn.
Colo., conjures images of luxury and uber-wealth. Movie
stars, oil sheiks and hedge-fund big boys have homes here,
and Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci cater to those who don’t
need to check price tags.
reigns high on many lists — the ski area attracting the
most celebrities, the top mountain resort to see and be
seen, and one of the most expensive towns in the nation.
To live here, as Discover.com notes, the median home price
is $877,000 and more than 40 percent of homes owned
are worth over $1 million.
don’t let all that deter you from a visit to this
beautiful four-season destination. You can enjoy
Aspen even if you are not a one-percenter.
you probably won’t be staying in Aspen proper, but
rather in the surrounding, scenic Roaring Fork Valley. Why
spend $400-plus per night on a hotel when you can spend
$170 or so and be just a short drive from the glitz and
status of Aspen?
knows — there is so much to do, see and explore (and
feast upon!) in the affordable "down-valley"
towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs that
visitors might not ever get to "up-valley"
just-opened Element by Westin hotel in Basalt is 18 miles
from Aspen, and only 20 minutes by car. The Element is an
environmentally designated property, with plenty of
natural wood, earth tones, expansive spaces and
modern, European-sleek decor.
hotel features 113 rooms, many of which are ample,
family-friendly suites. All have kitchenettes, and
there is a complimentary hot breakfast buffet along
with a cocktail and appetizer bar Monday through Thursday.
was a pleasure to stroll from the hotel to the
Scandinavian-like Willits Town Center, a well-designed,
pedestrian-friendly mixed-use community of boutiques,
restaurants, offices and residences, flanked by a Whole
Foods market. Conveniently, it’s a short walk to the Rio
Grande Trail, a popular 42-mile multiuse trail that
travels much of the region.
Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA) stop is just in
front of the Element. These comfortable, heated buses run
year-round, and many folks don’t even use or need cars
while here — after all, the RFTA’s routes are
expansive, going to all four of the Aspen ski areas; to
the towns of Carbondale, El Jebel, etc.; and even to
fee to Aspen, Snowmass and just about everywhere in the
valley is between free and $5 (seniors 65-plus are always
free), and the full schedule, discount offers and routes
is a wealth of recreational activities in the Roaring Fork
Valley, but in the wintertime, many will opt for the
world-renowned skiing here.
skiing is pricey ($139) at all four Aspen mountains
(Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass), but
lower prices are available for savvy early- and
mid-April features 25 percent off regular advance purchase
pricing; for 2016, that’s $10 per day saved on two- to
three- day tickets, $20 per day for four-plus days,
and $30 per day for at least seven days;
take advantage of free coffee at the base of all Aspen
areas every morning from opening to about 11, and at Aspen
Highlands each Wednesday, there are free muffins, hot dogs
and parking. Buttermilk always has free parking, and from
there, there are free shuttles to the other three areas.
less-expensive option is about an hour from Aspen, at
Sunlight Mountain in Glenwood Springs. This small resort,
with a nice assortment of slopes and a cozy feel, charges
an average of $45 for lift tickets.
families take advantage of Glenwood’s Ski, Swim,
Stay package — ski or ride at Sunlight Mountain Resort,
swim at the historic Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, and stay
in Glenwood Springs in a package deal that starts at $99
12 and under receive a free lift ticket with the purchase
of an adult full-day lift ticket when you stay at one of
the participating hotels (offer not valid during holiday
season). And after skiing, what could be more blissful
than an afternoon or evening soak in hot-springs
or cross-country, skiing is free in Aspen. The Aspen Cross
Country Center is located on more than 60 kilometers of
trails at the Aspen Golf Course, and in the center of the
Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System.
for downhill and cross-country ski equipment is a bargain
at the Basalt Bike & Ski shop, a five-minute stroll
from the Element Basalt. The shop charges $35 a day for a
regular ski package, $50 for a demo package, while
cross-country skiers will be set back just $20.
the major Aspen ski areas, downhill rental packages are
typically $50 and up; cross-country starts at $25. Best of
all, Basalt Bike & Ski provides free ski
concierge service to and from the Element. What a pleasure
it was to have my skis handed to me upon leaving for the
slopes, rather than dragging them to and from the car each
very customer-service-oriented shop offers a wide range of
road, mountain and hybrid bicycles depending on weather
ski season ends, the region offers a variety of
outdoor concerts and performances, many of them free, as
well as biking on the Rio Grande Trail, fly-fishing
(available for stalwart souls in the winter as well),
golf, tennis and, always, free hiking and exploring.
acclaimed Aspen Art Museum is always free (closed
Mondays), while Anderson Ranch, an arts school with
accommodations on site, has free lectures twice a week
throughout the summer as well as other free public events.
Aspen Institute, a world-famous think tank and research
center, features free lectures monthly all summer, as well
as $20 lectures more frequently.
Springs, one of Colorado’s pleasantly authentic mountain
towns, welcomes visitors to its naturally heated
mineral-water Hot Springs Pool, open since the late 1800s
but expertly maintained and restored.
main pool (a football field in length) is kept at a balmy
90-93 degrees, while the therapy pool is 104 degrees. An
all-day pass is $15.75, and the pools are open 9 a.m.-10
p.m. daily, 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. in summer. The on-premises
Spa of the Rockies is a full-service spa with an extensive
Springs was named the Most Fun Small Town in America by
Rand McNally and USA Today’s 2011 Best of the Road
Rally. A good part of that moniker has to do with the
Glenwood Caverns and Historic Fairy Caves.
last summer, Iron Mountain Hot Springs, set alongside the
Colorado River, has 16 small, naturally shaped pools
filled with thermal mineral waters. The views include the
Colorado River as it winds through the valley, Iron
Mountain, Red Mountain, the Flat Tops and the twin peaks
of majestic Mount Sopris.
with outdoor activities? A lazy-day option might be a
visit to one of the area’s two microdistilleries, and
both offer free tours upon request.
eclectic, artsy town of Carbondale is home to the swanky,
modernist, dog-friendly Marble Distilling Co., less than a
year old. This friends-and-family-owned business is not
only an on-site distillery, but a five-room inn as well
(sleep above the stills!) with high-end rooms (averaging
about $225 per night, higher during holidays) offering
spectacular views of white-capped Mount Sopris.
distillery’s tasting room serves up cocktails made of
its small-batch Marble Vodka (uniquely filtered by crushed
white marble from the nearby quarry in Marble),
Gingercello, Gingercello Reserve, Moonlight EXpresso
coffee liqueur and, soon, whiskey in barrels. On a recent
visit, we sat and sipped while an edgy fashion show
was ending and a comedy show was about to begin.
Marble Distillery is just steps from top-notch
restaurants, a movie theater and the delightful True
Nature Healing Arts, a holistic center encompassing an
outdoor peace garden, a yoga studio, a spa, a retail
boutique and a high-prana, living foods kitchen. A drop-in
yoga class is $18; one-hour massages start at $108.
Creek Distillers, in the town center of Basalt,
hand-bottles and -crafts its products, and serves them up
in a tasting room that attracts folks from Aspen and all
over the valley. Woody Creek has won an impressive
list of awards in its three-year existence.
This state-of-the-art, farm-to-bottle distillery features
the stellar Woody Creek vodka made from local potatoes,
rye, gin and a reserve vodka.
golfing in Aspen can be out of reach for the
non-country-club set, there is the Ironbridge Golf Club.
This 18-hole alpine semi-private course charges $59-$99
for daily fees to the public, including cart fees.
exceptionally beautiful course is just west of Glenwood
Springs and is open from April to October. For nongolfers,
the Grill is open to the public and features
reasonably priced dinner specials and a tasty a la
carte Sunday brunch.
Roaring Fork Valley is much more than the outskirts of
Aspen — indeed, it is an ever-evolving destination of
its own. But for those who want to see and experience the
charms of Aspen, why not visit, enjoy, but save some big
bucks and stay down-valley? Your wallet will thank you.
there: Direct flights from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to
Denver are offered on American, United, Southwest,
Frontier and Spirit.
Basalt, 970-340-4040, www.elementbasaltaspen.com.
Distillery Inn, 970-963-7008, www.marbledistilling.com.
Creek Distillers, 970-279-5110,
Nature Healing Arts, 970-963-9900,
Golf Club, 970-384-0630, www.ironbridgeclub.com/golf.
Hot Springs, 800-537-7946, www.hotspringspool.com.
Mountain Hot Springs, 970-945-4766,
Bike & Ski, 970-927-3460, www.basaltbikeandski.com.
Fork Transit Authority, www.rfta.com.
Modern Barbeque: After I devoured my plate of herb and
garlic smoked chicken, I cried out to my tablemates,
"It’s worth a drive to the mountains just for
this!" Two locations, one in Basalt and the other in
Glenwood Springs, have grown so popular that two more
opened in North Carolina. Don’t miss the "burnt
end" mac and cheese or the "smokin slaw."
Pullman: An acclaimed bistro and bar, open since 2010, is
across from the Amtrak station in downtown Glenwood
Springs. The Pullman serves innovative cuisine described
by the Zagat review as "Aspen quality without the
attitude" (or the Aspen price). This unpretentious
bistro by chef/co-owner Mark Fischer seats 80 and dishes
up such fare as to-die-for pierogies with truffle
potatoes, caramelized onions and scallion creme fraiche,
and steelhead trout with root-veggie ratatouille and
fennel-onion salad. The spare space has rustic decor with
rough-hewn material, subway tile, distressed concrete and
communal seating, as well as private tables. 970-230-9234;